State and federal law protects those suspected of crimes from being forced to make self-incriminating statements to authorities. This can include police officers, prosecutors, investigators and other law enforcement agents working on behalf of the state to secure a conviction. This is a fundamental right. Unfortunately, the confusing circumstances of many arrests and investigations lead suspects to inadvertently waive this right and make statements or utterances that are eventually used against them in court.
A Birmingham criminal defense attorney can advise you on your right to remain silent. Always ask to exercise your right to speak to a lawyer before submitting to any line of questioning by law enforcement.
What Suspects Need to Know About Incriminating Statements
Most Americans are familiar with the Miranda Warning from popular films and TV programs relating to crime. Such entertainment has introduced “the right to remain silent” into the modern American vocabulary. But what does this actually mean? A 1992 opinion by the Alabama Supreme Court illustrates a common scenario of police questioning.
Ex Parte Corey D. Matthews (601 S.2d 52) involved a defendant who had made incriminating statements to police officers and an investigator from the local district attorney’s office. This particular case focused on the promises which had been made to the defendant before he made his confession. Because both state and federal law require incriminating statements to be made voluntarily in order to be admissible against the defendant, the court was tasked with deciding whether the promises made the defendant’s statements involuntary. These promises included discussion of a “boot camp” program which might enable the defendant to avoid jail time and the statement that the prosecutor “might cut him a deal.” The investigator also told the defendant that he could either tell the prosecutor that the defendant cooperated, or that he hadn’t, and that this “could make a lot of difference.”
Ultimately, the state Supreme Court determined that these statements “engineered and encouraged” the defendant to think that he would be more favorably dealt with if he confessed. This had been prohibited by earlier case law. The Supreme Court therefore held that the confession would not be admissible as evidence against the defendant.
How Can Defendants Stop Questioning?
The Miranda Warnings also contain a familiar statement that the suspect has the right to an attorney. This derives from the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Once a suspect has made an unambiguous request for counsel, law enforcement agents must stop questioning until the suspect has been able to consult with his or her attorney. This rule has been affirmed in many different opinions by the United States Supreme Court. (See Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477).
However, many cases have dealt with whether a request was ambiguous or not. Suspects should therefore be very careful to clearly state that they will not answer any further questions without an attorney present.
These and many other confusing circumstances can arise when a suspect is being questioned by police officers. In these confusing circumstances, a Birmingham defense attorney can help suspects protect their legal rights from questionable actions by law enforcement agents.